Report: Admission Officers Increase Social Media Checks

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The winds of college admissions can change direction quickly. A little over a year ago, in late November 2018, Kaplan Test Prep released information about its survey, which noted that Social Media Checks By College Admissions Officers Decline Due to Savvier Applicants and Shifting Attitudes. The thrust there was that "for the third year in a row, the percentage of college admissions officers who visit applicants' social media profiles to learn more about them has declined, with only a quarter (25 percent) saying they do so, down from a high of 40 percent in 2015."

Yesterday, Kaplan released its latest survey, which notes that the Percentage of College Admissions Officers Who Visit Applicants' Social Media Pages on the Rise Again. What's going on here? Why the seeming reversal in deep background research?

Well, back at the end of 2018, Kaplan proffered one possible reason for admissions officers' decline in social media searches for applicants: "They can't find them." Why? Because at that time "about 85 percent of teens [said] they [used] both Instagram and Snapchat — two platforms which make it easy to share posts with people you want and hard to find for people you don't — at least once per month. This [compared] to just 36 percent of teens who [used] Facebook once per month, a decrease from 60 percent two years [prior]."

Report: 59 Percent of AOs Consider Applicants' Social Media "Fair Game"

In yesterday's release, Kaplan revealed:

Of admissions officers who have checked out an applicant's social media footprint, about one in five (19 percent) say they do it "often," significantly higher than the 11 percent who said they checked "often" in Kaplan's 2015 survey.

Of the admissions officers who say they check social media to learn more about their applicants, 38 percent say that what they found has had a positive impact on prospective students. On the flip side, 32 percent say that what they found had a negative impact. Both of these figures have fluctuated slightly over the past few years.

The Kaplan survey found that although less than half of admissions officers visit applicants' social media profiles, 59 percent —slightly higher than last year's 57 percent — consider it "fair game," while only 41 percent consider it "an invasion of privacy that shouldn't be done." College applicants are notably more accepting of this practice than admissions officers; in a separate Kaplan survey completed last year, 70 percent of college applicants said they believe it's "fair game" for college admissions officers to check social media profiles ...

New social media platforms may also be a factor:

… 36 percent of the nearly 300 admissions officers polled visit applicants' social media profiles like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to learn more about them⁠ — up from 25 percent last year and following a three year decline in the practice since the high mark of 40 percent in Kaplan's 2015 survey. This comes as teens are increasingly using newer social platforms such as TikTok and Twitch ...

What's up With TikTok?

"TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. It is used to create short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. The app was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android for markets outside of China. ByteDance had previously launched Douyin … for the China market in September 2016. TikTok and Douyin are similar, but run on separate servers to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions. The application allows users to create short music and lip-sync videos of 3 to 15 seconds and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. It is popular in Asia, the United States, and other parts of the world. TikTok is not available in China, and its servers are based in countries where the app is available.

TikTok was the most downloaded app in the US in October 2018, the first Chinese app to achieve this. As of 2018, it is available in over 150 markets and in 75 languages. In February 2019, TikTok, together with Douyin, hit one billion downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China. In 2019, TikTok was announced to be the 7th most downloaded mobile app of the decade, from 2010 to 2019."

And How About Twitch?

"Twitch is a video live streaming service operated by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon. Introduced in June 2011 as a spin-off of the general-interest streaming platform,, the site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to music broadcasts, creative content, and more recently, 'in real life' streams. Content on the site can be viewed either live or via video on demand ...

… By 2015, Twitch had more than 1.5 million broadcasters and 100 million viewers per month. As of 2017, Twitch remained the leading live streaming video service for video games in the US, and had an advantage over YouTube Gaming. As of May 2018, it had 2.2 million broadcasters monthly and 15 million daily active users, with around a million average concurrent users. As of May 2018, Twitch had over 27,000 partner channels …"

So, Moms and Dads, if you want to know what your teens are doing when they're not texting, a good guess would be that they're either TikTok-ing or Twitch-ing. Or both!

Teens: Be Careful About What You Share

Getting back to the survey, Kaplan's director of college prep programs, Sam Pritchard, comments: "We continue to believe that applicants' social media content remains a wildcard in the admissions process, with what they post possibly being the tipping point of whether or not they're admitted to the college of their choice. Our consistent advice to teens is to remain careful and strategic about what they decide to share. In 25 years, you'll definitely remember where you graduated college, but you'll unlikely remember how many people liked that photo of what you did over winter break."

If you don't care to read the press release, Kaplan offers a quick two-minute video to illustrate the main points of the survey. Also, if you would like to explore some additional thoughts about the relationship between admission officials and applicants' social media profiles, you can check out this article I posted in April 2018 or this one from 2014.

I hesitate to quote myself, but as I summarized in one of those articles:

The lesson here seems simple enough. If you're concerned about the small-detail aspects of your college applications, take an objective look at what you have posted about yourself online. Taking that approach one step further, try to find out what others have posted about you.

Search engines are notoriously effective and even though your own postings may be squeaky clean, your buddies may have compromised your cleanliness by posting that picture of you chugging a quart of Don Juan Sour Grape, complete with a colorful caption containing your search-engine-attracting name.